St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Deep Discipleship

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (6:31-36)

The teaching of Jesus is radical. We are not just to be nice, we are to be like God. This leaves us with only one option and that is to get real about being disciples of the Lord’s teaching and to acknowledge the reality of his presence in our midst.

“It seems that we do not understand one thing,” writes the Elder Thaddeus, “it is not good when we return the love of those who love us, yet hate those who hate us. We are not on the right path if we do this. We are the sons of light and love, the sons of God, his children. As such we must have His qualities and His attributes of love, peace, and kindness towards all.

Today’s Gospel speaks to this. To love only those who love us is nothing. To love those who do not love us is Divine. To give to those who are able to return the favor is nothing. To give without expecting anything in return is to be like God.

As such, then, Jesus cuts to the quick. After all, he is the one who said in a most uncompromising way that to harbor and nurture anger is the same as murder. The mere thought of anger, the fathers conclude is, not a sin and yet, if we persist in that thought and nurture it, then we take a huge step towards violence and aggression. And that is sinful indeed. This we must guard against in the most uncompromising terms.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Mt. 5:21-22

For us, then, there is no wiggle room.  There is no blessing for hatred, or for us to even be angry with or judge one another.  St. Xanthias, a father of the Desert, had a lovely little saying, “A dog is better than I am, for he has love and does not judge.”

The truth is that we or anyone is angry, look deeper. The anger often hides another feeling.  Anger is very often a mask for some deep sorrow. And it is what is hidden that is the truth of things.  For example, people who complain are hiding the real cause of their complaints. It is easier to lash out than to face one’s own pain.  The complaint is about the hurt inside, not about the too salty food or the unfortunate color of the drapes.  As a pastor and as Christians it is essential to learn how to listen to what is not said. As Christians we must pray for the gift of discernment so that we will see into the heart of things.  This is what is known in modern terms as active listening and that prepares the way for the reception of the divine gift of discernment.

Jesus knew this and called us to look within and repent, which means to change the way we think. A large percent of what we think and do is governed by the deep-seated pain that runs like a river under our consciousness. If we are suffering, we must know that the pain is calling for our attention. If we ignore it, it will cry even louder until we take notice and meet the need that it has.

Jesus did not come to make the external world perfect, but to transform the interior world inside of us. Otherwise, he would have brought down the Roman Empire. He did not.  Instead he fanned the flames of the kingdom in the heart of Zaccheus.  He brought light to shine in the dark lands of Zebulon and Napthli in the human soul. Thus he stands ready at the door of our hearts and says to us, “Come to Me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Folks, isn’t that what we should be saying to the world?

The Lord Jesus brings a light to shine in the dark places of the mind so that we can be healed of the suffering caused by the things that are hidden in the dark; so that, even when life is difficult and unhappy, we can be at peace like St. Paul who said that he learned how to be content even under the worst circumstances. The Lord does not want to leave us stranded in the dark for we are all lost sheep and Jesus comes to guide us home.

In conclusion, in this crazy time when we are tempted to give in to our baser instincts, to fear, to anger, to aggression, to hatred for the other, we who believe in Jesus must not allow these seeds of violence to take root in our hearts. We must become radical about Love, radical about peace and radical about Compassion. In those virtues lies wisdom.

As bearers of God’s image, as “the light of world” that Jesus has called us, it is our vocation to allow His Light, Peace, Joy and Love to permeate every aspect of our lives, to impregnate every thought, word and deed and to share them without condition to every man, woman and child we meet as He did and does, to stand when we must against the darkness even at the forfeit of life itself. Just as He did.